Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
After reading numerous interesting and entertaining posts in this forum, I am intrigued by the frequent use of “ghits” as a noun. The posts make it clear from their aggregate context that “ghits” refers to the number of google search hits for a given expression. For example, let us take one of my favorite eggcorns and say the following:A google search for the expression “cut to the cheese” yields 52 ghits.
It occurs to me that we can compress the “ghits” concept into a slightly more powerful form using math function notation. Without loss of generality, we can restate the sentence in the above example with the use of function notation as follows:ghits( “cut to the cheese” ) = 52.
To the mathematically initiated, this function notation might seem reasonable enough, or at the very least reasonably unreasonable. I apologize to the uninitiated who might find this notation not so easy on the eyes.
To enhance notational clarity, an exact copy of the entire google search key belongs inside the parenthesis so that the numerical results can be verified should the need arise. Moreover, the subtle issue of the difference between unique ghits and total ghits can be resolved by including the entire advanced google search key (complete with its associated obscure query syntax). I like this function notation because we can conserve screen space and elegantly describe potentially cool stuff, uniquely or otherwise. On a whim, I am toying with the idea of defining a Relative Usage (or RU) value for an eggcorn by using a modicum of elementary algebra. For example;RU = ghits( “cut to the cheese” ) / ghits( “cut to the chase” ) = 52 / 837K = 0.0062%.
I am not the original RU inventor, for several posters have previously alluded to the same conceptual ratio, though not in this explicit form. Note that the candidate- or traditional- expression always lands ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’ respectively. We are not attempting to safely transport an eggcorn to the moon and back. So, I round the percentage value to two significant figures, too. This RU value represents the candidate eggcorn expression’s eccentricity score (‘eggcentricity’?) that we can use to rank or sort eggcorns if we want. It also can help us to prioritize our efforts and to refine our thinking about the scale and proportionality of usage in the wild. I am guessing that the RU values for most slips and typos are even smaller, say in the neighborhood of RU < 0.001%.
To avoid loosing even more audience share, I intentionally ignore the fact that google search results for a given search key may vary from day to day as web content entropy is marching into the future. It is potentially interesting to track a given eggcorn’s RU value over time in order to spot a usage fad or discern a trend. Then again, it might not be of interest; who knows? As for the remaining and more subjective eggcorn criteria, we must not loose sight of the philosophy that the development of a really good eggcorn story is neither quantifiable nor an ‘eggzact’ science.
Is this like drawing a sword just to attack a mosquito? Any kind suggestions or pleasant comments?
I’m mathematically-challenged, but I suspect that if you just start using the RU formula in your postings, others will follow suit, just as most of us have picked up and use the ”’X’ for ‘Y’” formula that forms the headers of most new postings.
(Ooh…! ”’X’ for ‘Y’” formula sounds pretty mathematical, doesn’t it?)
Last edited by JonW719 (2008-06-12 18:56:36)
Feeling quite combobulated.
Thanks Jon. Ooh…! You probably already knew that I would completely agree with your preposition proposition for English descriptions of the form, ” ‘X’ for ‘Y’ .” It is much better than my verbose descriptions ” ‘X’ as from ‘Y’ ” or ” ‘X’ as spawned from ‘Y’.” I don’t know why I missed the last and most obvious step in the description simplification sequence. I was also distracted by a theoretical problem concerning the use of verbs such as “vs.” The crux of the problem is that the sentence ” ‘X’ vs. ‘Y’ ” might have the same meaning as its reversed version, ” ‘Y’ vs. ‘X’ ” and is therefore potentially too ambiguous for an automated eggcorn analysis tool (that is yet to exist).
Having said all that about the virtues of your English sentence ” ‘X’ for ‘Y’ ” to describe an eggcorn substitution; the ” ‘X’ << ‘Y’ ” notation (as motivated by a thoughtful suggestion from WhirlingD) has several subtle advantages. Without going into too much detail at this time, these advantages become more apparent when we commence to build a software tool to lexically parse the description sentences. This lexical parser is a first step in a process that automatically evaluates eggcorn Relative Usage (RU) formulae and the like. However, my incomplete thoughts on this subject have yet to coalesce sufficiently. Since my initial post on this [quasi-math] topic, I have observed several counter intuitive phenomena during my continuing eggcorn education that are causing me to refine or expand some elements of the conceptual framework that I originally proposed. More on that later. Since I am currently very busy working on other cool stuff, this could turn into an interesting and useful term project for an undergraduate computer science major. So, please stay tuned and don’t touch that dial! Thanks again for your consideration and feedback.
Last edited by rogerthat (2008-06-16 10:54:34)
Rather than a relative factor like the RU, an absolute measure like the total number of eggcorn usages located is the best measure of eggcorn “goodness”. Eggcorns based on a widespread misconception have the greatest potential to wind up in the Eggcorn Database. If you can locate an eggcorn with100’s of citable examples, then you’ve got a really good one on your hands.
jorkel, Thank you for your clarification. I now submit that my partially-baked idea about relative usage (RU) is a prime candidate for deletion. Fortunately, it died in the talk phase before any real effort was invested. I hope that other eggcorn novices [afterthought: ‘eggcornitas’?] have benefited from this ill-fated tangent as much as I have.
Last edited by rogerthat (2008-06-18 20:28:33)
I’m not sure that bigger is always better where eggcorns are concerned. I tend not to post potential eggcorns for which I can find only a tiny handful of citations—though I’ll happily break that self-imposed rule if I really like the reshaping.
But for me, some of the most interesting eggcorns are those that radically reimagine the original word. “Eggcorn” itself is a good example, and so is DavidTuggy’s recent “infactically” find. If I remember correctly, “eggcorn” had only 62 hits when first discovered. And “infactically” doesn’t get a lot more. That’s understandable—reshapings that look markedly different from any standard spelling are more likely to be noticed before they’re posted/published; they show up less frequently as a result.
Both big-number and small-number eggcorns are interesting in different ways, and I hope both the forum and the Database will have room for both types.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-06-18 16:26:59)